If you’ve ever found yourself with a bottle of moisturizer in your hand wondering if it should go on before or after your sunscreen, you’re not alone.
With an arsenal of skin care products, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out the best skincare order in which to apply them. But don’t worry – it’s not as mysterious as it might seem.
What’s important about a daily skin care routine, is …
Skincare Order Matters
Applying skin care products in the correct order in a daily skin care routine ensures that your skin cells receive the maximum nourishing benefits that each product has to offer. If applied in the wrong order, skin care products can lose their effectiveness, or they may not work at all.
For example, the thin consistency of a serum will prevent it from penetrating your skin if it has to fight through the heavy, creamy layer of a moisturizer.
And keep in mind that timing matters too. Some products need a little more time to absorb into the skin, while others do their best work when applied in close combination with other products.
The Correct Skincare Order
Ready to solve the mystery of when to apply which skin care products? A good rule of thumb is to work from thinnest consistency to thickest. Here are the exact steps to take to apply your skincare products, in order:
A proper skin care routine starts with a clean slate, and one of the best ways to get a clean slate is to start with a good cleanser. One great choice is a cleansing oil. Now, it might sound strange to use an oil on your face to cleanse it, but it is a good first step because oil is an extremely effective makeup remover.
You see – oil attracts oil, so a cleansing oil actually loosens up the makeup on your face so it can be easily removed.
This is true even if you have oily skin, or if you are prone to breakouts.
After you’ve loosened up the makeup on your face, it’s time to use a face wash. The face wash will cleanse away dirt, impurities, and any remaining makeup or cleansing oil residue.
And a face wash with antioxidants can give your skin protective, anti-aging benefits, helping to fight free radicals that contribute to the visible signs of aging.
Note: Try to avoid those “handy” makeup wipes. While they may feel a lot easier, they also leave behind a residue that can irritate sensitive skin or clog blemish-prone skin.
You don’t want to exfoliate every day, but using an exfoliant once or twice a week will help slough away dead skin cells and encourage healthy cell turnover. This will help give your skin a bright, polished glow. Exfoliating is especially important as you age, since cell turnover slows down, and a buildup of dead cells can occur.1
You can gently scrub with a physical exfoliant, which will buff away dead skin cells. You can also use a chemical exfoliant with ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHA’s), or retinol, which exfoliate skin cells from the inside-out.2
AHAs include such things as glycolic and lactic acids, while BHAs are usually salicylic acid.
Toners have come a long way. They’re no longer the incredibly drying alcohol formulations of yesterday. Today, toners also contain soothing and nourishing ingredients that help bring skin back to its natural acidic state and prep it to receive moisture.
A good toner in your skin care routine will help remove any lingering residue on your face – along with the chlorine, salts, and minerals commonly found in tap water.3 It also helps balance and prepare your skin, so it’s better able to absorb your other skincare products.
Don’t wait more than one minute after cleansing the skin to apply toner – molecules tend to penetrate wet skin more easily. Apply the toner to a cotton pad, and gently swipe it on your face, working outward.
Depending on your skin type, you will want to also look at particular types of toners.
- Hydrating toners are not just great for dry skin, but also for replenishing combination skins.
- Exfoliating toners are particularly good for blemish-prone or oily skin. BHAs (salicylic acid) and AHAs (glycolic acid) gently work to unclog your pores to help prevent breakouts.
- Toners containing algae are also a fantastic choice. They contain amino acids which may help to detoxify and remove impurities on the skin.
If you’re using an exfoliating toner, consider using it only in the morning if you’re already using a retinol at night. Wait a full five minutes before moving onto your next step so that the acids can properly work their wonders.
4. Spot Treatments (Night)
You’ll want to apply any spot treatments, such as dark spot correctors, and acne or scar treatments as close to your bare skin as possible. This guarantees that their powerful ingredients can work efficiently. They’re also best applied at night, when your skin sets about repairing itself.
If you’re already using a retinol product at night, you may want to consider applying your spot treatment in the morning, so as not to over-irritate the skin.
Otherwise, allow 5 minutes for spot treatments to absorb into your pores before layering the next product – you don’t want anything to counteract their heavy-duty lifting.
Spot treatments that include salicylic acid are great for penetrating pores on skin prone to breakouts and excess oil.
5. Serums (Night)
Next to spot treatments, serums are the most concentrated and nutrient-dense skin care product. Applying them closer to bare skin because means you’re getting a hefty dose of potent ingredients without interference from other products.
Since they tend to be lightweight, serums need to be applied to the skin directly, so they don’t have to fight through other products. If a serum is applied after a moisturizer, the moisturizer will block it from penetrating the pores. And you don’t want that serum to go to waste!
There are a wide variety of serums, so look for ingredients that cater to the needs of your specific skin type. Here are some common skin types and serum solutions:
- Sensitive skin: Aloe vera and green tea extract have soothing properties.4,5
- Aging skin: Peptides help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.6
- Dry skin: Hyaluronic acid is a powerful, natural moisturizer.7
- Uneven skin: Uneven or combination skin: Vitamin C helps to brighten the face, working to counteract hyperpigmentation and fight free radicals.8
6. Sheet Masks (Night)
Have you given sheet masks a whirl yet? Originating in South Korea – where an intensive skin care regimen is the norm – sheet masks are a convenient way to deliver a big dose of nourishing ingredients to the skin.
The masks are made of cotton, paper, or cellulose and drenched in “essences.” These essences contain moisture and nutrients that the skin loves. And, because these essences are literally sealed in by the mask, all those good nutrients get a chance to sink deeply into your pores, instead of evaporating into the air.9
You can apply a sheet mask after letting your serum sink into your pores for several minutes.
Let the mask work its magic for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, remove the mask and throw away – no rinsing or complicated clean-up involved.
And sheet masks aren’t harsh on your skin. You can use them as a weekly boost to your skincare routine or, if you’re truly committed, you can use one every night.
7. Eye Cream
Eye cream is of utmost importance. The skin around the eyes is exceptionally thin and prone to developing wrinkles and fine lines. Keeping this delicate skin hydrated with plenty of moisture will help preserve its elasticity, and it may help diminish the appearance of fine lines.
Because eye creams are lighter than many of your other products, it’s important that you layer them before your face moisturizer, as they won’t be able to penetrate through heavier products.
Since the skin around the eye is so fragile, use a light touch. Avoid rubbing eye cream in – gently tap it in with your ring finger instead.
If you want to get fancy with your eye care routine, try using a caffeine rollerball applicator cream in the mornings – the cold metal ball and the caffeine formula will help to tighten puffy eyes for the day ahead.
Then, at night, lean on a simple, hydrating formula to repair and hydrate while you sleep. If you’re already using a retinol product on your face, there’s no need to also have this in your eye cream.
Moisturizers are one of the last products you apply to your face. It’s important to understand that everyone needs an all-over facial moisturizer – even those with oily skin and combination skin.
Since moisturizers tend to be thick and creamy, applying them too early will block thinner products from sinking into your pores. Moisturizers also have occlusive properties, so applying them last will help seal in all the beauty-boosting ingredients you’ve already applied.10
A lightweight moisturizer can help keep skin hydrated throughout the day, while a heavier night cream can do more serious work while you sleep – when your skin does its most reparative work.11
Apply immediately after your eye cream, when your pores are still damp from the serum or leftover sheet mask essence. A little dampness helps lock in hydration.
9. Sunscreen (Day)
Want to know the best way to combat fine lines and the visible signs of aging on your face? Wear sunscreen! And make sure it’s a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays.
Sun exposure is one of the chief contributors to the visible signs of aging, so never skip this step before heading out for the day. Just apply a nickel-sized dollop, and gently massage it onto your face and decolletage.
Give your moisturizer a couple of minutes to absorb before applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
If you apply too quickly, the water in your moisturizer may dilute the sunscreen, making it less effective.
Always choose a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30. You should also seek out mineral sunscreens over traditional chemical ones. Mineral-based sunscreens physically block UV rays rather than filtering them like chemical sunscreens. Which means fewer rays close to your skin.
You can identify these mineral sunscreens by seeking out ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These naturally-derived ingredients are gentler on the skin and even the FDA believe they’re safer than their chemical counterparts.12
Skin Care Steps – Simplified
Correctly-ordered skin care can make a world of difference. Moving from thinner ingredients to thicker, more occlusive products will help to ensure that you’re reaping the full benefits of each product. And if you ever get lost again, just refer back to this handy guide! Mystery solved!
If you have any concerns about the use of certain products on your particular skin issues, talk to a board-certified dermatologist.
Learn More About Skincare:
Stop Exfoliating Your Skin with Baking Soda! (3 reasons why)
Travel Skincare Tips: How to Step off the Plane with Fresh Skin
Why Serum is Essential for Youthful-Looking Skin